Collaboration: it’s not just for the kids! Art teacher Margaret Burman and I are in the middle of a collaborative arts and literacy project in which third grade students are designing, creating, and writing about their own children’s book characters.

Part of learning to be designers, inventors, and innovators is looking at the designs, inventions, and innovations that are already out in the world. Studying the work of others can better inform our own. With that in mind, when it was time to embark on this character design project, we started by looking that the designs of well-known character. In particular, we looked at Mo Willem’s Pigeon.

After we read Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, the kids told me what they noticed about the Pigeon.

Students shared what they noticed about the Pigeon.
Students shared what they noticed about the Pigeon.

The next step was for students to draw the pigeon themselves. This forced them to think more about Mo Willems’ design.

A student draws the Pigeon.
A student draws the Pigeon.

Then, using the elements of art terms the kids learn in art, they were able to focus their noticings:

We also used the terms students learn in art class to focus our noticings.
We also used the terms students learn in art class to focus our noticings.

Using guided questions, I drew out some connections between the design of the character and the character’s personality. For example, the students had noted how some of the lines didn’t match up and the circles were imperfect. “Does it look like he is taking his time? Who else is a little impatient?” “The Pigeon!” Next students had a chance to draw some other favorite characters and think about those designs.

The next week we moved on to a new character — a brand new character! Snappsy from Julie Falatko and Tim Miller’s Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to be in this Book!) This time, they had to draw some conclusions about the character without having read the story first.

Look at all that they noticed!
Look at all that they noticed!

All of these activities ask students to use and develop their visual literacy skills, which is a great tie between arts and literacy.

Up next: A visit from an expert!

Yes, Judge a Character by His Design!
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